2120 Abulafia Practice with Y-H-V-H


Judaism is not well known for its contemplative practices. The primary focus for students of Judaism is and always has been the study of Talmud and Torah. Most people who have not undertaken this type of dedicated study/practice are unaware of its power as a contemplative experience. When one immerses in hours of intense talmudic engagement, the experience is often described as a mind state that exemplifies that of a meditation practitioner: expansive feelings of well being, a new level of calmness, a sharpening of one’s sensory experience and a fresh clarity of mind. 

As talmudic study is challenging in its requirement for one to be fluent in Hebrew and Aramaic as well as to be able to engage highly intricate thought problems that can only be appreciated through the use of unique logic, relatively few individuals are able to appreciate the results of this kind of study as a contemplative practice. Yet it accomplishes two important results: a transformed mind, and an expanded breadth of intellectual skills. 

Aside from the study of Talmud and Torah, there are numerous contemplative practices that are based upon chanting the four letters of the tetragrammaton (y-h-v-h) along with five primary vowels. Some of these practices were developed over a thousand years ago. We have already mentioned Abraham Abulafia as one of the few writers who describes this method in detail, but these techniques were described as early as the ninth century. It is believed that many practices go all the way back to talmudic times, two thousand years ago, along with other secret transmissions that were associated with traveling in a mystical chariot to higher realms of awareness.

The principle behind this practice is that each of us is endowed with divine sparks, and each person is created in the “image” of God. That is to say, the source of creativity that rests within each individual is identical with the creative urge out of which this world unfolds. In essence, the universe as we know it is characterized by Kabbalists as a “thought” in the mind of God. It follows that being created in the image of God does not mean that we resemble the appearance of God, which would be an absurd conclusion, rather we resemble the Divine in that we have the power to create new universes through our own thoughts and actions.

We experience this power when we closely investigate our own minds and recognize the continual creation of thought-universes as an ongoing process. When we are deeply engaged in our thoughts, we become numb to the physical reality in which we are standing during those moments. We seem to disappear into our thoughts and these inner worlds become our reality.

We all know the story of the sage who awakens from a dream about a butterfly wondering which is the truth: was he dreaming about a butterfly, or is a butterfly now dreaming about him? Many traditions and mystics in general believe that our mundane reality is nothing but a dream that we sustain throughout each day and we constantly create new elements in this dream. For each of us, our dream is our individual reality.

In addition, a mystic would say that each person is a vehicle of divine expression. Our actions, words and thoughts act out divine providence, and some believe that free will also plays a role in this process. So we are not simply robots, doing things that are pre-ordained, but are free agents, so to speak, who individually affect the way life unfolds. When we are confused (which is most of the time), we confuse things that influence the way the world turns. When we are clear, the expressions of our actions are also clear.

    The foundation principle of Abulafia’s practice, according to Kabbalah, is that worlds are created with primordial sounds. (“And God SAID, let there be light.”) Vowels represent these primordial sounds. Five vowels in particular are considered to be primary, with the others as secondary. The five primary vowels of Judaism are: Oh (as in bow), Ah (as in pa or ma), Aa (as in say), Ee (as in bee), and Uu (as in do). 

Each vowel is associated with a specific head movement, which is graphically represented in the adjoining illustration. {ed. Please place illustration C on the facing page.} The movements are connected with the way vowels are written in Hebrew. The sound Oh is a dot over a letter, thus we raise our head upward and then return to center when intoning this sound. The sound Ah is a line under a letter; we turn our heads toward the left shoulder, parallel to the ground, and then return to center when sounding this letter. The sound Aa is represented by two dots on line parallel to the ground, so we do the reverse of the last movement; we turn our heads to the right shoulder and then return to center. The sound Ee is a dot under a letter, thus we lower our heads and return to center when making the Ed sound. Finally, the Uu sound is represented as three dots on a angle, and also represented by a dot in the middle of a vertical line. The associated head movement is forward and backward and then returning to center. At first these head movements are emphasized when we intone each respective vowel sound. After a short time, the movements become very subtle, but we always have a sense of each movement when doing this practice. This helps us sustain the sequence of sounds, which become fairly complicated in advanced practice.

Abulafia’s system is unique. His sounds represent vowels, as they are written in Hebrew, coupled with specific head movements. While the earlier system was calming and settling, Abulafia’s system is more directed toward developing clarity and concentration. His method is easy to describe, but takes considerable practice and commitment to master. Yet, it offers the practitioner the potential to develop extraordinary skills in concentration. The development of concentration is the foundation for all advanced spiritual practice.

When the selected vowels are used with names of God, it is as if one is creating new universes. The most transcendent God-name is the tetragrammaton: y-h-v-h, each letter pronounced would read, “yod-hey-vov-hey.”  In the basic practice of adding the vowel Oo, for example, to the four consonants, we would derive: yoh, hoe, voe, hoe. With the vowel Ah, it would be: yah, hah, vah, hah.

Sitting still, emptying one’s mind, chanting these consonants and vowels with full focus and clarity, one is emulating the essential creative force. By keeping sharp and unconfused, one is creating pure universes of unadulterated sound vibrations. In that purity of heart one practices.

It is much easier to learn this practice by doing it than by reading, so go to the audio when you are ready to practice.

Combining Doublets

One of the fundamental techniques taught by Abulafia is to chant “doublets.” A doublet is made up of a vowel combined with a consonant/vowel.  Starting with the vowel Oh, it could look like: Oh—Yoh, Oh—Yah, Oh—Yay, Oh—Yee, Oh—You, Oh—Ho, Oh—Ha, Oh—Hey, Oh—He, Oh—Hu, Oh—Vo, Oh Vah, Oh—Veh, Oh—Vee, Oh—Vu, Oh—Ho, Oh—Ha, Oh—Hey, Oh—He, Oh—Hu…. And then we would do a complete round like this but beginning with the Ah vowel. This round would be followed by one beginning with the Aa vowel, then one with the Ee and finally one with the Uu. 

Notice that this description may seem confusing when you read it. The logical part of the brain wants to “figure it out.” But once you actually begin to experience the chanting process on a somatic level, with the body, you will see that it works much more easily that the logic had suggested.

Begin by inhaling while simultaneously internally making the sound of the vowel. Then each exhalation you will make the respective consonant. Always remember to move the head slightly as you make each sound, as this movement will assist your ability to stay with the correct sequence. Now please key the respective audio and you will soon experience a flow that will carry you through the practice.